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We ask the State of Retail panel: How has your business been affected by COVID-19 so far?

Published May 7, 2020

A version of this feature ran in the May issue of BRAIN. Panel members answered our questions in mid-April.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — For our May magazine edition, we asked our State of Retail panel members: “How has your business been affected by COVID-19 so far? What steps are you taking to weather the storm as the pandemic continues?”

SEATTLE: Christiaan Bourdrez, owner Ride Bicycles

Christiaan Bourdrez

Status: Open with modifications. Our sales have been consistent with last year’s, but I was expecting an increase before COVID-19. In general, sales are strong and service is up, especially in instant repairs for bike delivery folks and recreational customers out riding. We are seeing lots of kid’s bike service and sales and more hybrid sales in the $550-600 range, versus drop-bar. Our online sales have picked up considerably in the past month.

We’ve modified our operations in many ways: we are currently accepting curbside drop off and bicycle sales, asking customers to wait outside, and allowing one customer in store at a time. We are taking every precaution to protect ourselves and the community, including using gloves and keeping clean with bleach and hand sanitizer. We’ve split into two teams, one that works Sunday-Wednesday and one that is Thursday-Saturday, to avoid staff cross-contamination. We are doing instant repairs versus larger service packages to avoid additional contact, and we started offering 2-day, no-questions-asked returns on any bikes sold to allow for a quicker sales process.

BOISE, Idaho: Diane Cutler, owner Spokey Joe’s Bikes & Gear

Diane Cutler

Status: Open as usual. We are fortunate to be open, but it is far from business as usual. Immediately after the (Idaho) Governor’s Stay-Home Order, business took a nosedive. However, as the weather has warmed and the initial shock has worn off, customers have resumed coming through the door – although still not at the rate I expect for this time of year. Our retail numbers are down, but service is still pretty strong. 

I think it’s fortuitous that we’re experiencing this in the spring when people are itching to get out of their social confinement and onto their bikes for physical and mental well-being. We are taking steps to survive, but we’re already about as lean as we can be with staff and expenses, so our strategy for the moment is to only replace parts and accessories that have sold until things stabilize a bit. Our supply chain is a little slower, as to be expected, but we’ve been able to get what we need regarding product and customer service. Payroll assistance through the PPP loans, and rent and vendor payment deferments, will be the most helpful to get us through this difficult time.

CHICAGO: Justyna Frank, co-owner Cosmic Bikes

Justyna Frank

Status: Open with modifications. In terms of our sales, it's hard to know what's due to COVID-19, or weather, this year. Our service department is quite busy, and we're operating with reduced manpower because we can't have personnel working in close quarters. We've put in safety measures: physical and Plexiglas barriers, gloves, masks, and disinfectants. We've added functions to our website to allow customers to purchase services and certain merchandise before coming in, in order to minimize contact. We're offering free pickup and delivery with certain purchases and services, and we have figured out some workarounds for socially distanced merchandise sales, which were tricky at first. 

We're very interested in finding out what financial assistance will be available, due to the uncertainty of the situation. It's crucial for our suppliers to let us know what product will be available throughout the season, because we've been forced by necessity to rely even more on just-in-time ordering than we usually do.

FULLERTON, Calif.: Mike Franze, owner Fullerton Bicycles and Buena Park Bicycles

Mike Franze

Status: Open with modifications. We have seen a lot of people bringing in older bikes for service. Some are not worth fixing, and this has resulted in some customers buying new bikes. There’s been an increase in sales of kid’s bikes, and we’ve had a few full-family (2-4) bike purchases as well. We don’t have an e-commerce platform, but we’ve seen a boost in sales through Giant’s web link. The bikes we’re selling have been mid-priced, with a few in the $2,500-3,500 range. Our e-bike sales dropped off, but we ordered more price point bikes to help keep that market going. In general, though, I’ve been buying less - just keeping it to the basic items we need. We are a bit short-handed lately, so my son and I have been working long days, doing a lot of repairs and receiving. 

HOUSTON: Tad Hughes, owner Tad Hughes Custom Fit Studio

Tad Hughes

Status: Closed due to mandate. I was forced to physically close my studio in the first week of March. All of my events for the spring and summer have been canceled. Since then, my focus has been developing a mobile/pop-up fitting operation with participating network shops geographically. I’ve been reviewing and modifying my services, pricing, website, social media, and booking page. While I’ve applied for the SBA loan program, my greatest assistance will come from network shops, which will allow me to keep my clients and keep dollars in the IBD network.

BOULDER, Colo.: Brad James, owner Sports Garage Cycling

Brad James

Status: Open with modifications. We’ve remained open during our normal business hours, as it gives customers plenty of pick up and drop off time. We’re also offering curbside services, free pickup, and free delivery. Our floor traffic is down and our demo fleet is sitting idle most of the time. Service work has stayed steady and most of our suppliers are doing a good job of getting us the product we need. To weather the storm, we are cutting expenses in payroll, marketing, and non-essential merchandise like clothing. We’ve put pre-season orders that have not shipped on hold. We are praying a lot.

We are not an e-commerce business at all and we do not plan on scrambling to become one. I doubt most shops have the resources to get an online platform up and running or compete with Competitive Cyclist or Jenson.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.: Joseph Nocella, owner 718 Cyclery and Outdoors

Joe Nocella

Status: Open with modifications. Our sales have increased as more people are looking for bikes to gain mobility during the (New York City) shutdown. We’ve been keeping safe distances, allowing only 1 customer in the shop at a time, wiping down all surfaces, and wearing masks. We have been developing our online shop, and have been able to run it through its paces with curbside pickup. One thing that I need to know is what supply delays might be coming down the pike so that I can plan for them.

SAN DIEGO: Mike Olson, owner Trek Superstore and Bike Gallery

Mike Olson

Open with modifications. March was substantially up overall. We expect April and May to be down, due to the restricted hours and contact with guests. I also suspect we will get a very positive rebound as soon as it is acceptable to venture back out into the world. Online is up over 250% since the outbreak. There is still a lot of demand, especially for service work. 

We have pivoted to more online sales, delivery, curbside pickup and shop by appointment. We’ve reduced staff, a decision that was made easier by many choosing to shelter in place, and the generous benefits that were offered. We have applied for the SBA loans. I hope we will see suppliers offer

flexibility in payments as we wait out this shelter-in-place period.

CHICO, Calif.: Kate Sage, bicycle technician, and

Kate Sage

Status: Open with modifications. The combination of more riders shopping from home and warmer weather has increased online sales. Our e-commerce is as busy as our busiest days over the holiday season. Folks are buying indoor trainers or the parts they’ve been wanting for bike projects they now have time for. We’re doing our best to keep up with the demand despite reduced staff and uncertainties from our supply chain. Our supply chain has been impacted with delays and reduced availability, but so far we are still able to get most of our product from most of our suppliers. 

Our retail store has reduced its hours and initiated curbside service and our distribution center is working with reduced staff to ensure physical distancing. We transferred the majority of eligible staff to work-from-home status before California’s statewide shelter-in-place order was issued. We recognized early that the pandemic would result in reduced product availability, so we stocked up on essentials such as inner tubes. As the situation progresses, we need information from our suppliers and government as to how the situation is changing, and therefore, how we need to adapt.

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine, State of Retail

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